Proverbs 17:14

Dealing with Contention


The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water

A. The Beginning of Strife

1. Strife:

a. Strife; contention; arguing; disputes; discord; quarrel.

b. The root word means to drive a wedge or swing an ax.

c. That concept developed into a word that means strife between people—like driving a wedge between parties.

2. Beginning:

a. A point of time which is the beginning; (Gen. 1:1).

b. The word designates the earliest or first products or results of something.

3. Solomon speaks here of a dispute between two or more people or groups of people.

a. We are all painfully aware that arguments DO occur.

b. We have all been engaged in them… probably repeatedly.

c. Such disputes occur in politics; among friends; in the workplace; in the neighborhood; in school; in the local church; at home.

d. And again—we have probably all been engaged in strife to one degree or another in EACH of those settings!

e. Disputes and strife can occur anywhere there are sinners.

f. This means of course, that until we get to glory, we are going to be faced with strife and contentions… over and over again.

g. Solomon was a great observer of life… and this is a truth that he observed repeatedly: people fight and argue.

4. He gives us some words of wisdom along these lines… something he noticed in the contentions and disputes that arose in his kingdom.

a. He noted that wherever there is an argument… there is a beginning to it.

b. Every dispute has a “start” line. Unfortunately, they don’t all have finish lines… but they all have a start line.

c. There is a point in time wherein strife begins.

d. In the office it might begin when you were given an extra pile of work to do.

e. In school it might begin when your team lost and the other team was taunting you.

f. Among friends, it might begin when you weren’t invited to the cookout.

g. In the local church it might begin when the pastor preached a sermon on election…

h. In the home it might begin when the husband leaves his dirty socks on the floor… again.

i. In the Middle East it began when Abram cast out Hagar and her son—thousands of years ago.

j. EVERY argument or dispute can be traced back to its beginning.

B. As the Letting Out of Water

1. The letting out of water defined:

a. “letting out” = set free; remove; open; escape; burst through.

b. Breech, break open, i.e., have a wall of a container break open from relative pressure, so allowing the unchecked flow of water.

c. The term speaks of water being let to flow…

2. The Hebrew writers were divided as to which of the following Solomon had in mind:

a. The letting out of water in a dam

b. The emptying of one’s bladder
• The point driven home is the same either way…

3. Solomon makes an analogy here.

a. There is something similar between the beginning of an argument… and the beginning of letting out of water.

b. The point: once it begins to flow, it can be almost impossible to stop.

4. Think of a breech in a dam… New Orleans.

a. A breech usually starts off small… with a little crack.

b. In the beginning of that breech, a small crack is easily repaired.

c. But if you are careless about the BEGINNING of the breech, and the water starts flowing—it is almost impossible to stop.

d. It simply has to run its course—doing all kinds of damage in the process. Just look at New Orleans!

e. Our government is spending billions to rebuild the city of New Orleans. And they will be spending a lot to repair the levy… to hold the water back.

f. It would be unreasonable and irresponsible to spend billions of dollars in rebuilding the city… and to fail to deal with the potential for another breech.

g. Water is extremely powerful and destructive. It can wipe out a whole city.

h. In Noah’s day, it wiped out the entire earth.

5. There is something similar between the beginning of an argument… and the beginning of letting out of water. Solomon implies THREE analogies from this illustration:

a. Once water begins to flow—it is virtually impossible to stop it.
• So too with arguments and disputes. Once they begin… (however small) they are very difficult to end!

b. And disputes and flowing water, are both extremely destructive.
• Water can ruin a city.
• Arguments and fighting and ruin a home… a business… friendships… the local church.

c. The beginning of it all is the most important point.

Therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with.


a. In light of what was said in the first part of the proverb…

b. Having stated the analogy and implied similarities between water that begins to flow and arguments that begin to rage… Solomon gives us some advice.

2. Don’t let it start!

a. Exert self control at the very beginning BEFORE the water starts to flow… because once it starts, you have no more control.

b. If you can control the first little trickle of water in a small crack in a dam… you can prevent the dam from bursting and causing a lot of death and destruction downstream.

c. If you don’t stop it right away, it gets larger and larger and more and more powerful… until finally there is no stopping it!

d. If you wait until the water is flowing rapidly out of the dam, the resistance becomes too great to be successfully opposed.

e. You KNOW the reaction between gasoline and a spark—so intervene BEFORE they come together!

3. Leave off contention…

a. Leave off = to leave; forsake; cast off or away; reject; cease; abandon; quit; cast down…

b. Cast down contention… reject it… abandon it…

c. Prov. 19:11 – the discretion of a man DEFERS his anger.

4. BEFORE it be meddled with…

a. TIMING is everything here.

b. How do you deal with a rip roaring argument? Don’t ever let it BECOME a rip roaring argument!

c. Don’t MEDDLE with it.
• Meddle: used in Prov. 20:3 – cease from strife.
• Quarreling and being obstinate by insisting on having one’s own way.
• Don’t be obstinate; don’t demand your own way; don’t let that first little trickle of a fight BEGIN.

d. BEFORE it leads to anything… CEASE.
• As Christians, we should recognize that that first irritating little trickle is DANGEROUS.
• We should be aware of the awful, destructive capabilities of our sin nature… and fear.
• We should realize the potential destruction when an argument begins… knowing from past experience where it can lead…
• Be aware that something TINY can become huge in no time.
• Solomon’s advice is sensible.
• Exert some Holy Spirit empowered SELF CONTROL before the water starts flowing… or you won’t be able to stop it.
• At that first little irritating thought or word… that first urge to let out your waters of retaliation… determine to HOLD IT IN… (A soft answer turns away wrath.)
• Prov. 15:18 – A little bit of patience and longsuffering up front can prevent a LOT of trouble and disaster from occurring.
• You FEEL LIKE blurting out an insult… you FEEL like striking back… you FEEL like letting them have it… you FEEL like giving them a piece of your mind…
• Solomon says before you let ANY of that out (before you begin meddling in an argument) exert self control…
• Once you let it out… the waters behind that dam begin to flow with more and more force and you will find yourself powerless to stop it.
• Prov. 12:16 – a fool’s wrath is PRESENTLY known… instantly known. He holds nothing back. That is folly.
• Wisdom has learned to hold back that initial urge to retaliate…

e. The BEGINNING is the most important point.
• At the beginning, before the argument takes root… when the first spark of contention flies… PRAY… ask God for wisdom… for grace… for His strength.
• Remember that you died with Christ and don’t HAVE to argue and fight any more. You are ABLE to walk in newness of life.
• The devil will try to convince you that you HAVE to act on your feelings.
• But instead—walk by FAITH. Trust God… rest in His power… believe that HE will work in you HIS good pleasure.
• Here is His good pleasure: leave off contention before it starts!
• On that first urge to strike back… fall upon the Lord in faith and trust Him.
• Whether it is water or fire or emptying one’s bladder or an argument: the initial response to that first urge is the most important.
» It’s easier to blow out a match than to put out a forest fire.
» It’s easier to fix a tiny crack in a dam than to hold back a full-fledged breech.
» It’s better to hold it in…
» And in a potential argument—when that first urge to snap back occurs—hold it in.
» A soft answer at the beginning can turn away wrath… and prevent a breech in a relationship.
» Drop the issue before the contention begins.
» And regardless of who’s to blame for sending out the first spark of contention, be quick to forgive or to say, “I’m sorry”… before irreparable harm is done.
» Prov. 25:8 – don’t be HASTY to enter into an argument. You may not know how to end it!

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